Heirloom tomato salad, dressing on the side

At many a fine restaurant, you can get most anything you want — provided, of course, that you doesn’t mess with the chef’s grand vision.

A request for “sauce on the side” may be rebuffed. The chef believes that if you’ve chosen to eat at his restaurant, it must be because you’re there to celebrate his culinary genius. More charitably, he may believe that the dish will be dry or nearly inedible without that touch. And sometimes, he is indeed right.

But dieting is compromise, and so we ask. If you are fortunate enough to eat at James Beard Award winner Michael Mina‘s eponymous restaurant at The Bellagio, your wish will be granted without hesitation. And the food will not suffer in the least, whether you use a bit of the sauce or none at all.

Based on the chef’s own philosophy, that statement probably goes at his restaurants in San Francisco, Washington, Detroit, Seattle and so on.

“I don’t believe in whisper joints,” he is quoted as saying in a profile on his website. “You’re not in my restaurant to worship the food, but to have a fantastic dining experience.”

The Restaurant Dieter and his spouse are happy to report that we did.

Dinner started sharing a fresh and low-calorie chilled shellfish platter: lobster, shrimp, crab, prawns and ceviche. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and sweet enough without just a tiny tab of the accompanying mint aloli. The lobster was tossed in citrus dressing and topped with a daikon gelee. The ceviche had a light coconut foam. The crab was so sweet it required no accompaniment at all.

The real test came with the next two courses. Could I have the heirloom tomato salad “BLT” without the bacon and with the basil aioli and the dressing on the side? “Of course,” the server replied.

And can I also have the ginger vinagrette on the side for the “three seas” tasting of Japanese fish with bamboo rice? Of course.

Both were excellent.

The heirloom tomato salad was sort of a deconstruct itself, so dressing on the side wasn’t particularly difficult. It consisted of spring greens tossed with a series of chunks — of summer’s peak heirloom tomatoes, of crusty bread cubes, of avocado and of a peppered and well-drained plain yogurt. I used perhaps two teaspoons of both the dressing and the basil aioli. The component flavors were so strong that more really wasn’t necessary.

The Japanese fish tasting came with the vinaigrette on the side as requested. It was presented as a line, flanked on either side by a tempura hen-of-the-woods mushroom. These are among my favorite and suffered some from the overpowering tempura batter. I tasted one and gave the other to The Restaurant Dieter Spouse.

Between the mushrooms were the fish treatments. The first appeared to be a Greek dolmades — but instead was steamed bok choy filled with a scallop and mushroom mousse. It needed no vinaigrette.

A piece of chilean sea bass wore a slightly salty coat of miso, but the pink-centered tuna and scallop were perfectly cooked. A dab of the vinaigrette gave all of them a perfect spark; without it, the dish wouldn’t have tasted right.

But somewhere back in the kitchen was one of Mina’s chefs, apparently confident with the basics enough to give the dieter what he wanted.


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